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About this blog

Joe Fearn is a professional groundskeeper. We writes about reconciling economic, aesthetic, functional, and environmental needs in the landscape.

Entries in this blog

Orbiting the Giant Hairball...

Several years ago at a previous job, I became mired in a funk. This funk had to do with the politics of my organization, and with how those politics frequently seemed to force me to work in ways that I did not support. This was not a new situation for me. Many people who strive for continual improvement are frustrated by business as usual, and the lack of a team being open to new ways of doing things.   I talked this issue over with a mentor (my brother-in-law, Kevin), and he said he had jus

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Putting 2017 in the Rear View...

Another year has come and almost gone, and like many of you I am taking stock of the past 12 months. Groundskeeping closely follows the clock and calendar, and our jobs are greatly influenced by both of these factors. December (or more broadly, winter) is a viewed by many who care for grounds or the landscape as the end of one period and the start of another. I realize that this is the end of the year for our whole society, but not in the same way as for us in the green industry. The solstice is

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

A Long and Proud Family Tree

I love being the Head Groundskeeper at Drury University. This job is invigorating, challenging, thought provoking, and even most usually, exhausting. Grounds maintenance (and of course golf superintending!) challenges us both mentally and physically.   One of the aspects of my job, and our larger profession, I find fulfilling is the idea that I am participating in a time-honored human endeavor. Much of our work in the green industry has to do with fulfilling some kind of commercial purpose. In

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Moving Beyond Sustainability

Sustainability as relates to the landscape is difficult to define. I mostly know what it is, but at the same time I'm not really sure. The word itself seems to ask, "Can my landscape sustain itself?". However, if sustaining is the question, then any landscape that can be perpetuated for whatever reason, and consuming whatever resources required, is necessarily sustainable.   Sustainability also seems to have an ecological component of harmony with the environment. This attribute seems very wis

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Build Your Brand to Build Your Value

Branding is the effort to create a distinct and significant positive awareness of your organization in the mind of your customer or stakeholders. This recognition of your capabilities and contributions can be important to whether or not your operation is seen as benefiting the organization as a whole. Branding is a way that you can you can help to affect the way your image is perceived by the people you work with every day. While your work output/quality is the most important factor to organizat

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

I Wonder Why? ... Now I know.

Creating the connection between these two phrases is the hallmark of a great employee. But how does a manager or organization get people that can link these on their own? Is having an inquisitive mind a strength that is in one's DNA, or does the desire to learn need to be instilled in an employee?   The mind is a muscle. Like a muscle, one must use it or lose it. In our industry, not a single day goes by that is not filled with many opportunities to exercise your mind and learn something new.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Keep America Beautiful

Recently I was asked by a teacher here at Drury University to speak to a class studying the psychology of sustainability. While considering what I would say, I began to question where I came up with my environmental perspective. Turning back the clock in my head my first environmental memory was the early 1970's "Crying Indian" campaign by the Keep America Beautiful Foundation. I can remember getting choked up by this public service announcement. The image of the American Indian broken-hearted b

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Sustainable Landscaping Withstands Scrutiny...

Sustainable landscaping isnt about mowers that burn liquid propane, efficient irrigation systems, compost teas, or even native plants. While all of these efforts, and others like them, are steps along a continuum moving towards sustainability, they will all ultimately fall short of the goal of real sustainability. Sustainability is not a superficial strategy that can be implemented by taking a few small steps. Sustainability is a complex web of interactions that reflect the ability of man and na

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Keeping Our Water on Campus...

Water, when it takes the form of rain and stormwater runoff, is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing when it irrigates our courses and landscapes, fills our ponds and replenishes groundwater levels. It is a curse when it washes away mulch beds or bunker sand, creates erosion damage, or overwhelms the ability of drain ways to move it out of our landscapes. Which of these consequences it ends up creating is to some extent up to us as Grounds Managers. Creating plans and methods for dealin

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Water Conservation on Campus: A Tale of Irrigation and Slow, Spread, Soak

As of February 28, 64% of the State of Missouri is in the moderate drought category according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. This is up from 50% the week before, and as of this writing the remainder of the state was in the abnormally dry category.   By contrast, California, which had been in a several years-long drought, is now declining in all drought categories. 75% of the state is not rated at all and even the stubborn droughty areas of Southern California are getting moisture. In fact, many

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Rest in Peace, Beaver

Here at Drury University we are very interested in supporting the ecology of our area. This effort is challenging in our urban setting. Regardless, it is an effort we see as critical. We install native plants and trees that appeal to pollinators, and act as food sources to the local insects, birds and animals. We evaluate the surrounding neighborhoods and see where we might build larger sections of habitat by creating green corridors. Over the five years I have been here I have seen the results

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Joe Fearn’s Management Maxims

Being a successful operation is about making pieces work effectively together. One of those pieces are the relationships in a team. The relationships are created by the principles that guide our work. These relationships might be task related, timing related, hierarchically related, and are usually contextual. Context is fluid, and requires a framework that can give it meaning and logical structure. Because while some work may be accomplished in chaos, achieving specific objectives is challengin

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Put a Bow on It...

Another year has come and (nearly) gone. Although we in the green industry are frequently regulated by seasons, the ending of the calendar year provides a significant point to take stock. It strikes me as unusual how I tend to be reflective and look back as December comes to a close. But then PING, it is January 1 and I begin totally looking forward again. On one level this is good because failures of the past year do not persist in bogging me down. On the other hand I may not be evaluating the

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Going To See the Doctor...

Let me start right off saying I am not talking about that kind of doctor (a physician). The doctor I am talking about is Dr. Brad Fresenburg, Assistant Extension Professor with University of Missouri Turfgrass Science. While Dr. Fresenburg works in Columbia, MO., he travels extensively as a turf/sports turf expert, Master Gardener lecturer, and pesticide applicator certification instructor.   Brad is a true turf devotee and approaches his job with a real-world perspective. He knows the minutia

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Establishing Objectives

One of the most common concepts that contributes to a team's success is to have clear objectives. Clear objectives provide direction and framework for how to proceed in your work. These objectives can be precise, such as increasing the tree canopy or completing your mowing route in "x" number of days. Or they can be broad so as to create context for where your grounds operation will move toward. Here at Drury we have come up with five objectives to guide our work as we strive to fulfill our orga

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Don't Call It Sustainability (the "S" word)

I don't know if it is me, or if there really is a hesitancy by people to adopt sustainable landscaping practices. It could be me, because I preach sustainability, and honestly my message can be fire and brimstone at times. But I also wonder if there isn't a weird kind of sustainability reluctance (sustainability overload perhaps) that turns people away from any landscape called sustainable'. In my 25 years of landscaping, sustainable has meant saving time, money and staff, resources I never had

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

What’s Griping Me?

That's it. For this blog I am not going to take the high road. I am not going to say to myself "put yourself in their shoes". I am not going to look to understand the other perspective. I am not going to be a good soldier. This is going to be a vitriolic, hate-spewing, anger-filled, lament of many of the idiotic things I have to put up with as the head groundskeeper at a university. I am looking to vent, and vent big. So, to my fellow groundskeepers, sit back and see if you don't say "been there

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

i-Tree Canopy and Drury University Cover Assessment

Drury University covers right at 100 acres in midtown Springfield, Missouri. If I had to summarize what Drury looks like, I would say it is a traditional landscape with primarily traditional architecture. When our community is asked to describe the campus landscape, most people remark on our many trees, and the park-like setting we reside in. Without a doubt, Drury University presents an image of a vibrant landscape that is in harmony with the built environment it resides in. In an effort to tru

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Create market differentiation with the landscape...

Driving through midtown Springfield recently I was struck by how devoid of unique landscaping much of my city is. I was also struck by landscaping that was uniformly boring and in many cases, virtually nonexistent. Yet there was remarkable variety to the architecture of the buildings, and the marquis street signs/billboards were also very unique. These observations made me wonder about how any organization uses the landscape to first support its business, and then how it might help differentiate

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Dog Run Sustainability

Everyone is reasonably familiar with the concept of a dog run. Dog runs can be a fenced area, usually rectangular, or a leash of sorts on a length of cable. Both configurations are meant to give the dog the maximum freedom of movement without giving the dog so much leeway that he can escape the yard, or be a nuisance to neighbors. The dog has some space, but is still held securely in a specific area.   I often think that green industry sustainability is like a dog run. Freedom to move within a

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

It Pays To Belong...

Many, if not most of us Green Industry professionals belong to professional associations or groups, and maintain professional certifications in those groups. In my case I am a Certified Arborist, Municipal Specialist with International Society of Arborists (ISA), and a Certified Grounds Manager with Professional Grounds Managers Society (PGMS). I also participate in the Missouri Community Forestry Council (MCFC). We are also usually required to maintain licenses that give us credentials. Here in

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Sustainability Baby Steps...

Sustainability continues to be a hot topic in the Green Industry and here at Drury University. Every aspect of how we manage and maintain our landscapes is affected. I read about amazing things happening all the time and wonder what I can do? How can I share in all these amazing steps taking place on college campuses, golf courses, parks, businesses, etc.? I sometimes feel I am getting left behind. But sustainability is not only about liquid propane mowers, compost tea, and native plants. As I s

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Realities, Or Just More Dreams... Part Two

One of the comments I hear from my grounds crew is that I jump around on projects too frequently. While I see some truth to this observation, there is a reasonable and desired effect from this job-jumping. Having lots of tasks -- especially broad efforts -- lined up, allows for at least one to always be practical. If factors outside my control (weather, budget, and organizational objectives) or factors within my control (scheduling, training, crew morale, etc.) put a damper on one, I have anothe

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Realities -- or just more dreams -- for 2016 (Part One)

When I was a new Grounds Supervisor working at Alexandria Hospital in Virginia, I would take a monthly walk through campus and generate quite a lengthy punch list of ALL the work I needed to do. Truth be told, most of that work never got done. It rolled over, or simply fell out of my sphere of concern. I dont need to tell any of you how many concerns/problems we Grounds Managers see whether we are looking or not.   I don't need a list for what needs to be done NOW, or when someone important th

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

The Grounds as a Social Force

Most people are already well aware of several areas that landscaping is used for the common good. Most landscapes are interested in planting trees, shrubs and flowers in order to support their surrounding ecosystems. Landscaped areas, certainly including golf courses and sports fields, are well known for their ability to decrease pollution and other environmental benefits. The mental well-being of visitors and patrons can be much improved by exposure to the natural environment we all work in and

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn


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